SDSU assistant professor Zhen Ni receives young investigator award

Courtesy photo: Zhen Ni

BROOKINGS – A South Dakota State University assistant professor has been honored as the most promising young investigator in the field of neural networks by the International Neural Network Society. Assistant Professor Zhen Ni of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will receive the Aharon Katzir Young Investigator Award at the July International Joint Conference on Neural Networks in Budapest, Hungary.

“This award encourages me to look further to solve some of the fundamental challenges in the field of neural networks and machine intelligence,” Ni said. His research will help develop intelligent learning control systems that can mimic the human decision-making process. These intelligent systems could help evacuate people in an emergency situation, such as a fire in a shopping mall, or allow a robot to autonomously move, navigate and scout in an extreme environment.

INNS evaluates young investigator nominees based on their research records, quality and impact of their publications, research funding resources and service to the society.

Formed in 1987, INNS is one of the oldest and largest organizations for machine networking. “The organization is a major driving force in our field of neural networks and modeling behaviors, brain processes and brain-inspired computers,” Ni said. “It is a very interdisciplinary group, which includes engineers, computer scientists, neuroscientists and biologists.”

Associate Professor George Hamer, interim department head of electrical engineering and computer science, said, “As a young faculty member, Dr. Ni has worked hard to secure funding for his research and provide opportunities for our students, not only through his research, but also through the active role he plays in professional organizations.”

Associate Dean of Engineering Research Dennis Helder said, “Dr. Ni is a great example of the talented young faculty we have in our college and we are delighted he has been honored for his professional accomplishments so early in his career.”

Ni began working in the field of neural networks nine years ago as a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island. He came to South Dakota State after completing his doctorate in 2015.

In 2016, Ni received the URI Excellence in Doctoral Research Award. His research has generated 27 peer-reviewed journal papers and 47 peer-reviewed conference papers.

At South Dakota State, Ni is a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on two National Science Foundation awards, a NASA EPSCoR grant, a Department of Commerce grant and a South Dakota Board of Regents grant.

He has supervised two doctoral students and eight master’s degree students, including five who have completed their degrees and are working in industry or pursuing doctorates. “I enjoy my research work in the department very much and have worked with some talented students,” Ni said.

Ni is an associate editor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Transactions of Neural Networks and Learning Systems and IEEE Computational Intelligence Magazine. He also leads the IEEE taskforce of Intelligent Systems for Cybersecurity of IoT.

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